Travel insurance - natural disasters and extreme weather

Natural disasters and extreme weather can severely impact your travel plans. Find out what to do if you’re affected, what you might be covered for and how travel insurance can help.

Eve Powell
Eve Powell
Updated 25 August 2022  | 5 mins read

What if my travel plans are affected by extreme weather conditions or a natural disaster?

You may have been looking forward to your trip for ages, but even the best laid plans can go wrong.

From delayed flights to flooded accommodation, severe weather and natural disasters could disrupt your holiday and prevent you from having a smooth travelling experience.

However, travel insurance can provide protection against all sorts of unexpected events that could affect your plans. And it could help with the extra costs caused by your travel disruption.

Key points

  • Travel insurance may help cover travel disruption caused by natural disasters and extreme weather, but it’s important to check the policy documents
  • Try to get compensation from your airline or tour operator first before you claim on travel insurance
  • If you’re stranded abroad, your travel insurance provider can give you advice and will usually extend your cover until you can get home
  • You can check it’s safe to travel by checking with your airline and using government foreign travel advice

What does travel insurance classify as a natural disaster?

In travel insurance policies, a natural disaster is also known as a natural catastrophe, an act of God, or a ‘force majeure’.

These are classified as unforeseen and unavoidable events that:

  • Are outside human control
  • Couldn’t realistically have been prevented
  • Happened as a direct result of natural causes

Examples of natural disasters that may be listed on policies include:

  • Storms
  • Earthquakes
  • Tornados
  • Hurricanes
  • Wildfires
  • Tsunamis
  • Floods
  • Landslides
  • Volcanic activity (including ash clouds)
  • Medical epidemic or pandemic

What is severe weather in travel insurance terms?

Severe weather can really affect your plans and cause travel chaos. This type of weather is generally defined in insurance policies as unexpected adverse weather conditions.

Travel insurance could help by covering you for extreme weather that’s affected or delayed your trip and wasn’t known about or announced in the media before you took out your policy.

Examples of adverse weather include:

  • Blizzards
  • Storms
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes

Be aware that if you want to be covered for certain extreme weather events you may have to take out an add-on to your policy or pay a higher premium.

Am I covered for travel disruption due to natural disasters?

Many standard policies won’t cover claims related to natural disasters, however some will so you’ll need to check the policy details to be sure.

Policies that cover natural disasters or catastrophes may include cover for:

  • Extra accommodation costs and travel expenses
  • Missed trips or connections
  • Holiday or trip cancellation
  • Medical treatment for injuries
  • Travel delays
  • Repatriation to the UK
  • Emergency evacuation to get you to safer ground
  • Lost or damaged personal possessions

What isn’t covered?

While travel insurance can help with some of the disruptive effects of bad weather or natural disasters, you won’t be protected for everything.

For example, some policies won’t cover you for natural disasters at all.

And you won’t be able to claim for any weather-related disruptions if you took out your policy after the bad weather had been forecasted or was known about.

Also, you won’t be covered if you travel against government foreign travel advice or if you cancel or abandon your plans before the trip’s been delayed by 24 hours.

Some of your costs may not be covered if you haven’t first tried to claim a refund from your tour operator or airline.

Also, note that travel insurance for delays and missed departures usually only applies to international travel, so it’s unlikely to help if you’re travelling within the UK.

How do I find out if it’s safe for me to travel?

It’s always a good idea to do your research before you travel to an area and to check updates regularly in the run-up to your departure.

You can subscribe to email alerts and find the latest travel information, advice, and warnings on the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) website. This will also tell you about any destinations that are unsafe to travel to.

Check the TravelHealthPro website at least eight weeks before you travel. This will give you up-to-date information on travel health advice by country.

If poor weather or a natural disaster means your flight gets cancelled, your airline or tour operator should contact you immediately to notify you, so check your emails regularly.

You can also monitor the status of your flight by entering the details into your airline’s website, contacting your airline directly, or using a flight tracker website like Flight Aware.

What can you do if a natural disaster makes your accommodation uninhabitable?

If the situation means you can’t stay in your accommodation, the first step is to contact your travel agent or tour operator - it’s their responsibility to find you somewhere else to stay and make suitable arrangements.

Alternatively, if you’ve booked accommodation separately, you’ll need to organise somewhere new to stay yourself and seek compensation from your original accommodation provider directly.

Check your travel insurance policy to see whether you’re covered for natural disasters and if this can help with any costs you incur from having to change or cancel your plans.

You should also follow any advice from the local authorities in the area where you’re staying.

What should you do if you’re stranded abroad because of a natural disaster or severe weather?

If you’ve booked your flight and accommodation separately, you’ll need to speak to the providers individually to see what they can arrange.

If there’s a natural disaster or bad weather, it’s likely that your flight will have been cancelled.

You should be offered replacement travel arrangements or a refund under UK law.

Depending on the length of the delay before they can get you a replacement flight - your airline has to help you with things you need, which can include food, drink and overnight accommodation.

If you’re unable to get a flight home and can’t find a seat with any other airline, check the Foreign Office website to see if any chartered flights have been arranged to help UK nationals. You can also contact the local British consulate for help.

Contact your travel insurance provider to see if your policy will provide cover for any related costs too. Most providers will extend your cover while you’re stuck abroad.

Can I claim on my travel insurance if bad weather in the UK disrupts my travel plans?

Your policy may cover some of the costs if your journey to the airport is affected by adverse weather conditions and you miss your departure.

If your flight is delayed in the UK because of bad weather, your travel insurance may pay a fixed cash sum after a certain number of hours of being delayed.

Your cover may also allow you to claim if bad weather forces you to cancel the trip altogether. You’ll need to check the details on your policy or speak to your insurer to find out your options.

What happens if my holiday dates are rearranged because of flight cancellations?

When flights are cancelled, the tour operator or airline may give you a refund credit note or a voucher to rebook your holiday for a future date. You’re also likely to be offered the option of a cash refund.

If you’ve already taken out travel insurance and you choose to rebook for different dates, it may be possible to transfer a single-trip policy to cover the new dates, as long as you haven’t made any claims on this policy.

It’s usually possible to do this if:

  • You make the changes before your original trip departure date
  • The destination and length of the trip are the same
  • The return date is within 12 months of the policy start date

How do I make a claim?

As bad weather and natural disasters are outside an airline's control, it’s unlikely that you’ll be entitled to compensation from the airline itself, although you should still try this first.

If you’ve booked your flight and accommodation through a tour operator, they should offer you compensation or give you an option to book an alternative trip.

But if your holiday isn’t a package deal, you’ll need to make a travel insurance claim.

Depending on your policy, your travel insurance could cover every step of the journey from the flight to your accommodation and any pre-booked trips.

Contact your insurer as soon as possible and have your policy number and details to hand.

Your insurer will tell you whether your claim will be covered. If it is then you’ll need to submit your claim online or use a paper form.

Where can I go for further advice?

If you’re experiencing travel disruption or are worried about potential delays and cancellations, you can find useful and up-to-date information from:

FCDO -This provides information about travel warnings and alternative travel options, as well as contact details for the British Embassy in each country

ABTA (formerly known as the Association of British Travel Agents) - Get travel advice and check your tour operator is a member of ABTA. Its financial protection scheme protects your holiday, so if your travel company goes out of business, you’ll be given a full refund

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) - Find out about your rights if your flight has been missed, delayed or cancelled and get advice on travel related problems

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